Neal sat at his kitchen table, hands pressed into his forehead, he stared absently at the table. He repeatedly drew in deep breaths, trying to steady his thoughts, trying to keep reality in check and wondering where he'd be in the next few days if things didn't settle out with Peter. Right now he was sure that wouldn't happen and had already started making arrangements.

He startled with the knock.

"It's open." He called without a thought as to who was coming through.

He ran his hands over his face, lost for a moment at the presence of the man standing in front of him. He stood, tipping his chair backwards in the process, he caught it, halting the chair's plummet to the floor. He stepped behind the chair, defensively separating himself even further from the man now standing quietly in his apartment. He ran his hand nervously along the top rail of the chair, then tapped his fingers casually against the wood rail, as though reassuring the chair it was safe. He brought his eyes up, realizing how much his actions gave away his nervousness, and drove his hands into his pockets. He let out the breath he held, in a shaky huff.

"Peter."

"Neal."

Neal took an involuntary step back as Peter approached the table. Peter watched him cautiously and held up a hand. He then rolled what he held between thumb and finger and placed it carefully in the centre of the table.

"And?" Neal asked hesitantly.

"It's a flash drive." Nothing like stating the obvious, "It's a very interesting flash drive."

Neal shrugged.

"The back interview rooms at the FBI are all audio/video recorded automatically. Sometimes we capture confessions, sometimes information for investigative follow-up." Peter expected some change in Neal's expression, there was none. "The first file on the drive is follow-up, has some interesting clips from the surveillance cameras at Herald Towers. Seems their main system had a serious recording failure but not the external one running on a separate feed. One view shows a man, short in stature, rolling a rather sizable case down the street towards the entry and one of him exiting the rear, no case. A camera around the corner has even more interesting footage on it."

Neal stared at the flash drive then brought tired, heavy eyes up to meet Peter's.

Peter dropped his eyes, "I was hoping..."

"It wasn't me?" Neal finished. "It was."

Peter's surprise was evident in the snap up of his head.

Neal continued before Peter could interject, "The original Degas went back with all the treasure. The forgery is mine."

"Copy is yours."

Neal furrowed is brow, trying to discern Peter's intent.

"I think if we're going to talk Neal, everything should be up front and honest."

"Fine."

"Honest."

"I got that part, Peter."

"You haven't always."

"I've never outright lied to you."

"No, but prevaricate, equivocate."

Neal gave a nonchalant shrug, "It's the nature of the beast."

"And it's not easy to change one's nature, is it?"

"Not easy at all." Neal agreed. "What do you want from me, Peter?"

"Honest answers about the treasure and ..."

"Always the treasure." Neal sighed deeply.

"Neal..."

"I didn't steal the damn treasure, Peter. Hell, I never really went looking for it either. I got dragged into it with Kate and she died because of it. Honest enough for you?" Neal waved a hand angrily back-and-forth between them, "We nearly died because of it. ... Then Adler points a gun at me, set to pull the trigger and my ears are ringing and I thought ..., I thought ... . Then the explosion and you yelling at me, accusing me, without a moments hesitation. And after all that, you send Jones and run me on a polygraph for hours. Hours, over and over with the same questions. You still didn't believe me. You never once asked me to help you find the treasure, you only wanted to prove I stole it."

Neal had stepped forwarded and was driving a finger aggressively into the table. Peter watched aghast, he hadn't expect the outburst of anger. He'd hoped to have a civil conversation, to clear the air not cloud it with further hostility.

"You want to know what I did after the docks, Peter?" Neal continued, eyes burning intently, but Peter caught the redness, the slight glaze, when Neal had closed the distance between them. "I stood in a warehouse surrounded by the treasure. You remember that first feeling, I know you do, even with everything going on when we were on the U-boat, you felt it. The exhilaration of something so astounding, miraculous. It was intoxicating, absolutely intoxicating. Everything I'd ever wanted, ever dreamed of, right there. I could hold master pieces no one had seen in 70 years, appreciate every brush stroke, the composition, the light. Not to mention perfectly cut gems in settings of solid gold. It was overwhelming. Yet all the while I kept comparing it to my life, to all the things I have now that you can't put a price on. And then after all those hours and questions,... there was ..., there was ..."

"Mozzie."

"He'd been there so many times for me, ... but his life, ... his life isn't mine. I liked what was happening here. I liked the challenge, the results, people believing in me...but then... then there's you. Your trust meant everything. I didn't feel so alone but ..." Neal shook his head slowly, solemnly.

"When... when you're one of the only people I've ever trusted, Peter. That I knew had my best interests at heart. And then you're... you're..., at ever turn accusing me, threatening me, watching me, waiting for me to fail. For what so you can lock me back up? Put me away indefinitely?" Neal eyes narrowed and widened, almost rhythmically.

"Neal, I..."

"No Peter, you know what that does? It starts cutting into you, makes you wonder about your choices, doubting them, doubting yourself, until you're no longer sure which direction to take. So, you play all the cards you have, all at once, hoping fate will intervene. Fate can be cruel though Peter, and the real choice is whether you keep playing or walk away from the table. Aces, I had aces and walked away." Neal stared at Peter, then dropped his head down, his voice barely a whisper.

"I didn't want to gamble my life away. I made my choice, Peter. I knew there'd be consequences, but I never expected, ... not... I never meant to hurt you, or El, or anyone else. I just, ... I just wanted you to believe in me, believe I could change, make the right choice. I wanted to prove Kramer and everyone else wrong, show them you knew me better than I knew myself. That I hadn't let you down."

"I know." Peter sighed.

"What?" Neal was working so desperately to keep his emotions from careening out of control that he wasn't readying Peter. His words flowed over and around him but like water on hard ground, never sank in.

"Neal, I didn't come here to..."

"It's okay," Neal interrupted softly, absently watching the finger he traced across the table, "I understand. It's not like anyone else would take me on, and not now, not with everything that's happened. Diana and Clinton might but I couldn't stay in the office." He gave Peter a tight smile and a small half-hearted laugh. "Besides, they're good but I doubt they'd ever challenge me enough or suffer my antics for very long, not like..."

"Me."

"Not like you." Neal shrugged and stared through the open french doors into the night.

"I've already talked to June." Neal continue hesitantly. "She told me not to be so foolish, then told me to have faith, then gave me her lawyer's card. Offered to pay his fees. She figures I should be in witness protection. I tried to explain a Confidential Informant is afforded protection from testifying, so I'm never a witness, and don't need protecting. She says her lawyer is one of the best. It won't make any difference, I know our deal's done, and with the recorded evidence I gave you...," A shaky breath broke the monologue, "Maybe I ... you won't push for... . You know the city lights dance like jewels when ..." Neal closed his eyes and tipped his head back, a single tear stealing down his right cheek.

The silence echoed through the apartment, bouncing off the walls and buffeting against the two men standing alone, together.

"Neal?" Peter called his name, as if uncertain of the the other man's presence.

"I'm ready, Peter." Neal pulled in a long slow breath, "I was hoping for the weekend but... I won't cause any trouble. I never wanted to..."

"You done?"

"I'm sorry for everything, Peter. "

The anguish in Neal's eyes was enough to rend Peter's heart seven ways from Sunday. He took a deep breath, then held a hand up when Neal started to move toward the door. "No. I'm not done yet."

Neal stopped, confusion evident in his expression.

"Are you listening?"

Neal gave a slight nod, albeit a little unsure.

"Neal, I want you to listen to me very carefully."

"Okay, I'm listening,"

Peter scowled.

"I'm listening."

Peter pointed at the flash drive. "The other file on the flash drive is of two friends. One friend, a younger man, sits for hours, holding the other, quietly just being there, refusing to leave his friend's side, without any consideration for the anguish he's just experienced himself. And all the while, never wavering, with no thought for himself. The younger man provides information on everything surrounding the treasure. Incriminating information that would ultimately seal his fate and send him back to prison. All digitally recorded in the back interview room at the the FBI nearly a week ago."

"I get it Peter, I'm going back to prison."

"Shut up, Neal! Listen." Peter nodded his head in a methodical yes motion, as Neal started to open his mouth again. He wanted Neal's full attention, but he also understood the apprehension Neal felt at the thought of returning to prison. For a young man, resigning himself to the reality of an eight by ten cell would be traumatic enough, for someone like Neal, with his passion and zeal for life, devastating. Yet he had.

"Listen." Peter repeated again slowly. "The rest isn't on the drive but apparently for hours more, about thirty-eight hours, that same young man never stopped. For some twenty of those hours, plus two unaccounted days, he was without a tracking anklet to legally tie him to anything, not that it would have ever really stopped him. At one point, he risks his own life to protect his partner and return his friend's loved one."

Peter stooped down to catch Neal's eye. Neal's hesitant blue eye's blinked in bewilderment at him.

"You with me?"

"Yes. I think I am."

"Neal, I didn't understand about Kate. I never should have said the things I did. It wasn't for me to decide if she was right for you. The right one, your loved one. She went missing and the only person truly looking for her was you. There were no legions of FBI agents swarming over her apartment looking for clues. No NYPD searching. No BOLOs desperately asking for assistance to locate. No team. Just you, desperately looking, hoping." Peter took a deep breath.

"I never gave you the leeway to honestly look. Instead I brought the FBI and NYPD to take you, while you sat holding onto your one clue. Then I gave you that little shred of hope to keep looking. Only I didn't really. I just made the cage bigger, tied you in legalities and promises. I asked you to be patient, to wait in the dark. A dark that robs your soul, that shakes you to the core and leaves you feeling empty. I asked you to do that alone." Peter took another, shaky deep breath. He could barely bring himself to keep his eyes fixed on Neal.

"I didn't have to do that alone, I had a friend watching over me. He comforted me when I needed it. He took my anger when I needed to vent. He did whatever was asked of him, unconditionally." Peter wiped at his eyes, "My friend never let me down."

Neal took short raspy breaths and pressed his eyes shut, fearful that if he opened them some unknown reality would stream in and he'd loose the desperate battle to maintain some decorum. He trembled. Tears slowly meandered down his cheeks, ran along his jawline and melted into his neck. He could almost hear Kate's sweet laughter, the brush of her lips on his, the promise of blissful times together.

"I miss her." He whispered to the stillness around him.

"I know." Peter's voice - warm, forgiving - filled the emptiness. "I know."

A hand rested on Neal's shoulder, then cradled the back of his head and pulled him into a cautious hold. Tentative, unsure if the tension would uncoil like a spring wound to tight or release in a flood of unbridled emotion. Either way, it scared the hell out of Peter. Either way Peter wasn't about to let his friend deal with life alone, not again.

Peter could feel the shake of Neal's body, the short intakes of breath, the faltering attempts to gain control. Neal pulled away and stepped back from him.

"Sorry, I shouldn't ...," Neal clasped his hands behind his head and then pressed his elbows tight to his temples. "Damn it!" He spun around and strode onto the terrace.

The wind had picked up and the heavy moisture in the air threatened rain. Neal shivered. He leant against the concrete parapet and crossed his arms over the top cap. He rested his chin in the crux of his arms and focused on some unknown distant point.

Peter walked out to stand hesitantly beside him. They stood in silence for several minutes. The low clouds reflected the ambient light of the city, casting a warm glow, that softened the edges of the buildings surrounding them. Lights twinkled and the noise of the city filtered through the thick night air.

"I'm going to miss this." Neal sighed.

"It's some view." Peter agreed, then continued quietly. "I spent several hours today speaking with Doctor Zaidi."

Neal suddenly turned to face him, eyes flashing anger, then distress, "That's not on..."

"Neal. No." Peter shook his head adamantly, "Diana overrode the video recording process about two minutes after Zaidi's arrival. She turned the audio feed off too. Everything you said was confidential."

Neal scowled at Peter.

"Neal, I'm not sure who Diana called Zaidi for, you or me, or both. I do know you ended up talking to him on and off for nearly two hours and I know I don't remember a damn bit of it, at least not now." Peter answered Neal's questioning look. "The good doctor says some of the memory will return but other things never got into short term memory, so there's no way of recalling memory that was never held. It's kinda like this..."

Peter held out a closed hand and waited for Neal. He dropped the flash drive into Neal's outstretched hand. Neal stared at it dumbfounded. Glassy blue eyes finally rose to meet his own.

"I lied." Neal stated bluntly, then dropped his eyes. "I'm not ready. I can't... prison. I'll never be ready."

"Who would be?" Peter chortled. He gripped Neal's shoulder and jostled him. "That drive is the only one in existence. Diana and Jones canvassed the area around the Herald Towers and any footage went onto that special little drive provided by a certain femme fatale of the computer underground. Seems when you download info, it sends a reverse execute message and the info deletes itself from the original source."

"But the..."

"Treasure? You mean the treasure you helped recovered, along with stopping Keller, permanently. You also helped affect the arrest of Keller's accomplices. You know they keep trying to make deals and implicate you. Diana broke into hysterics during one interview, I really am not looking forwarded to explaining that recording to the D.A."

Neal continued to stare at Peter in stark disbelief.

"I'm not sure about your Degas. We may have to hang onto the copy until Elliot Richmond's trial is complete. Still it did help bring an arms dealer down and we recovered several other stolen art pieces. I think Hughes might be willing to let you have it back, once it's marked as a copy of course. Maybe will send it to Kramer for his office." Peter raised his eyebrows with a wry smile.

"We even cleared Rusty, with the proviso that the release was on your word but he's never to have contact with you unless it's official. Funny, there wasn't the least argument at that, actually he made some comment about never wanting to cross paths with you again." Peter cocked his head to the side. "Neal, it would probably be good if you tried breathing."

"I'm not?" Neal finally proffered, breathless.

"I'm not breaking my team up. Not while it's one of the best in the country. I might have lost it for a bit but I'm not delusional, I know a good thing when I'm looking at it." Warm brown eyes found and held crystal blue ones.

"I'm not?"

"No Neal, you are not going to prison. Besides, it would be hard to get you to dinner Saturday if you're in prison. Breath."

"Breathing."

"Good, wait here."

Peter went back inside and returned moments later.

"Give me the drive?"

"But..."

"You'll have to forgive me on this one but I just don't trust you right now."

Peter held his hand out and Neal reluctantly placed it in Peter's hand, unsure of why the conversation had suddenly turned. Then his mouth gaped open, as Peter placed the drive on the parapet and proceed to beat the thing into oblivion with the small hammer he'd found in a kitchen draw. He handed Neal the hammer, brushed what was left into his left hand, and deposited it into one of the large flower urns.

"Hope it doesn't kill June's flowers?" Peter smirked, "But I'm sure they're a little less costly than her lawyer."

"She'll forgive you." Neal smiled for the first time since Peter had walked in.

"Anyway, I need to head home, El will no doubt want confirmation you'll be there for Saturday dinner. So you're aware, Jones, Diana and Hughes will be there. Others were invited but are apparently on a 'takeout' list." Peter shrugged. "Are we good?"

"We're good." Neal still looked exhausted but the anguish and anxiety had vanished.

Peter was nearly at the apartment door when he turned to face Neal. "We all have to make choices, Neal. It's how you stand by those choices, and the people in your life, that matters. I'd prefer to stand with you, than chase you, Neal." Peter hesitated, as smile worked it's way across his face, "You do realize that means you're expected at work first thing Monday morning, with me?"

Then Peter's eyes twinkled with a mischief usually reserved for Neal's torment of him. "Almost forgot, Hughes says he's not helping you with anymore of your reports, something about unusual procedures and people."

Peter was out the door and gone before the Monday morning part settled into Neal's consciousness.

And, Neal Caffrey stood alone in the studio apartment, his room. The one with an incredible New York skyline. The one with an open door, that friends could walk through, that he could walk in-and-out of at will. The one with the terrace, and great coffee, where he could feel the sun, and wind and rain on his face. The one he now called home.


Officially, this makes for my first complete FanFic. Thank you for reading. Any suggestions, guidance, comments, likes, dislikes are all appreciated, so don't hesitate to send me a message or review. Cheers CCG.